For EWTN’s coverage of the 44th March for Life, there was a calculator on screen showing the number of deaths by abortion worldwide as the program proceeded. The coverage started at 9 AM, and by 10 AM the number was already over 5200. Which made me curious about the worldwide total for one year. So I multiplied that number by 24 and then re-multiplied that by 365 = somewhat over 45 million per year. I was not totally surprised, but I found myself sitting there stunned by that staggering statistic.
Then it hit me that the word “statistic,” which tends to dehumanize the carnage, is not just a statistic. It’s 45-million human beings who are denied their right to life, a sacred right precisely because each person’s life truly is created by God.
Joseph Stalin once said: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Psychologically, at least, Stalin had it right: such numbers tend to become purely statistics with no moral power. That is exactly what allowed Stalin to murder millions of people without blinking an eye – or without most other godless observers blinking an eye. What was important was the revolution and nothing else.
The massive killing of the unborn is itself a clear indicator that we are in the midst of another revolution, the secular revolution that is overthrowing God and the moral law in many countries across the globe. This secular revolution contains other sub-revolutions, such as the sexual revolution and the intellectual revolution in our universities. When God has been banished from society, when God is “dead,” anything is possible, even the annual killing of over 45-million human beings with hardly any sense of outrage in the “civilized” nations of the West.
The very obscenity of that number makes it difficult even for many good Christians to feel an appropriate and deep revulsion towards the society in which they live their daily lives. Over a million innocent unborn are killed in this country every year, and yet life goes on pretty much as usual for most of us. The exceptions are those more deeply dedicated pro-lifers working year-round to save lives, by counseling and offering alternatives, by raising funds for women who choose life rather than death for their unborn child, etc. They are the true heroes of this movement, and for the most part they work unrecognized by society, which suits them just fine.
Somehow we’ve got to get beyond statistics to the reality of this horror without losing our sense of balance and our Christian charity towards all, including those who give in to the temptation of abortion and those who promote abortion. But we also can’t lose our sense of moral outrage, as if this evil could ever become tolerable. To accomplish this, we need not only a sound spiritual life, but we especially need the constant witness of spiritual leaders, who speak out publicly.
Our spiritual leaders occasionally declare a day of fasting for some atrocity that occurs in our world. Yet I’m not aware of any national hierarchy or the universal church declaring a day of fasting, let alone a month of fasting, each year in reparation for this massive crime against humanity and its stupendous offense to the Creator of life. Why not? Has there been a deadening of the moral sense, even in the hearts of those who are, or should be, the great defenders of human life? Words, words, words, but little action that touches the human heart, or the moral sense.
A Vatican conference is going to take place next month on the threat of biological extinction of certain species because of climate change. Okay, but why not also sponsor a conference on the threat posed to humanity when 45-million unborn children are killed each year? This is not a potential threat, sometime in the future, but a reality here and now.
Or, why isn’t there a Vatican conference on the demographic suicide taking place around the world, which threatens human societies far more than does the possible loss of certain biological species caused by climate change? The conference in the Vatican is intended to wake people up and spur the kind of human ingenuity that can address such threats. But when it comes to the threat of worldwide abortion and demographic suicide, there seems no urgency, or at least not the same kind of urgency.
The same thing is true when it comes to prayer and fasting. I suspect that if even 1 million people – not 45 million but 1 million – were being deliberately and systematically starved to death by some government engaged in ethnic cleansing or something similar, that the moral outrage would be so great that we would witness our spiritual leaders calling for prolonged prayer and fasting until the evil was eliminated. But it would be a case of leading from behind, that is, subsequent to the outrage, rather than leading opposition to it.
The death of all these children, year after year, and the disproportionately small moral indignation and practical action may also be a dangerous scandal for Christians. Why is God letting this happen? Why is the Church doing so little in proportion to the evil?
In the end, it’s all part of the mystery of Divine Providence. We don’t comprehend the ways of God. And we certainly don’t always understand the ways of his Church. But we know that God will bring good out of even this evil, and that somehow even the failures of the Church fit into this divine plan.
Faced with this great stumbling block, we’re forced to put ourselves trustingly in the place of St. John the Baptist who was once told by Christ, “And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.”